Around six tracks into Swearin’s sophomore LP, you might forget which band you’re listening to. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Brooklyn four-piece manages to move through so many styles in their relatively brief 11-track album that any of the songs could be a one-off single from some unknown bar band, soon to be the next buzzy thing. With three of the four members (Allison Crutchfield, Kyle Gilbride and Keith Spencer) trading vocal responsibility throughout, what’s coming next is any casual listener’s guess. The album moves with a kind of subdued mania that makes nearly every new track feel like a sudden left turn.
The band also has a lot of obvious, if mangled, influences, predominantly from the ‘90s. Gilbride yalp-drawls like Robert Pollard and Black Francis holding hands. Watered Down has the band wearing Stephen Malkmus masks while stage mom Jeff Tweedy claps along on the sidelines. Album opener Dust In The Gold Sack will remind you how good P.S. Eliot was once Crutchfield delivers her diary-crush croon with confident certainty and tinny, lo-fi guitars. Mermaid is a grungy yoga pose that will surely stretch some kind of Northwestern muscle tendon inside you. And drummer Jeff Bolt is just as joyously slap-happy as ever.
But it’s important that Swearin’s ’90s sonic cake walk is happening in 2K13. Because what they’re really doing is pointing out what other bands in their aesthetic clubhouse are doing wrong. Last year, when everyone else was trying to see how close they could get to sounding like they were recording underwater without actually going underwater, Swearin’s self-titled debut stood out as a tome of renegade basement-dweller anthems. And now they’ve peeked their heads out of the basement just as we’ve decided the ‘90s resurgence dream is over, and My So-Called Life will never see a second season. But it’s not over, Swearin’ whispers.
Frustratingly, the album’s lowest point comes directly after one of its high points. Right after Crutchfield’s standout dream-whisper Loretta’s Flowers, Glare Of The Sun comes bounding in like an unpleasant pseudo-face slap. Like in recess, when someone mimed throwing a ball at your face and you knew they wouldn’t actually do it, but you cringed and cowered anyway? That’s Glare Of The Sun: a twitchy, hair-in-your-mouth buzz fest that never quite comes to a climax, complete with Spencer’s dead-pan monotone throughout.
That’s not to say that Surfing Strange isn’t impressive as a whole. Curdled closes the album with the kind twanged-out, nervous closet-folk that made Swearin’s debut so enjoyable. It’s as if, by the end of the LP, they’ve finally worked out their existentialist identity crisis and gotten down to doing what they did best in the first place: making damn good garage-pop.